The Linguist


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@Linguist_CIOL OCTOBER/NOVEMBER The Linguist 9 FEATURES GETTING THE JOKE Above l-r: a gag centred around John Donne's poem, which Adriana created to replace a reference to a French song; the cover of Asterix and the Chariot Race; and Obelix heads for Imperial Tibur Wells Romans in '-us' (e.g. Lactus Bifidus). For the chariot race there were teams from lots of different places, so I could have fun finding names that suited each pair of characters. I tried to stick to the same word ending as the French, so the hapless Pataquès and Solilès became Bitovamess and Undaduress. Occasionally the publishers liked one of the names but not the other, which was not a problem as I always had rafts of other ideas. For the Egyptian team, I wanted to keep the prefix – instead of the suffix – the same, so I could have Neferumind and Nefersaynefer (a riff on Nefertiti), but the publishers did not want to break the tradition and came up with Kweenlatifer to go with Nefersaynefer, keeping the 'fer' ending. Because of the broad age range of the readership, the publishers are sensitive about 'adult' themes, and the French publishers questioned the use of the word 'orgy'. The English editors, however, argued that orgies have long been mentioned in Asterix books, and we were allowed to keep it. INVENTING NEW WORD GAMES Although my aim was invisibility, I did impose a personal touch in one frame. The publishers wanted me to translate the spa town of Tibur les thermes as 'Tibur Spa', but I happen to live in Tunbridge Wells, known officially as Royal Tunbridge Wells, and saw an opportunity to make a subtle joke about it, so I called the place Imperial Tibur Wells. There was some resistance to this at first but the publishers accepted my explanation that plenty of British spa towns are called 'Wells'. At first glance, the characters from Egypt need no translation, as they speak only in hieroglyphics. However, when they get carved up by another chariot in the race, there are hieroglyphics of a fish and a tail because the French expression for carving someone up is faire une queue de poisson ('do a fishtail'). In English, a fishtail is a type of hemline, so we had to alter the hieroglyphics. At one point there was a pun on the French name for the Cimbri competitors: Les Cimbres sounds very like the word for 'stamp', and a stamp collection gag ran over more than one frame. I couldn't think of a workable pun on Cimbri so I had to invent a new gag. My first solution involved a joke from earlier in the album, but the publishers wanted something fresh. Eventually I came up with a joke about the Cimbri slaves being tormented with 'morsels of pastae in all different shapes – laces, ribbons, tubes, even butterflies!' and being promised 'a square meal' if they rigged the race. For a later reference to the same running gag, I had Asterix saying 'a Cimbri marches on his stomach'. Later in the book, a character resigns his job due to ethical concerns, and when his servant asks 'What about your beautiful villa on the island of Capri?', he replies 'Capri c'est fini' ('Capri is over and done with'). If I hadn't had the footnotes, I wouldn't have known this was a reference to a famous French song. That wouldn't work in English, so I turned it into 'There's more to me than Capri, no man is a holiday island!', referring to John Donne's 'No Man is an Island'. I discussed this with a friend (sworn to secrecy) who wondered if it should be '…no man is an island', but I thought the triviality of the holiday island made it funnier. It plays with the quote, which is what Asterix books do: mess around with familiar word patterns and quotes to make fun of them. ALL WORK AND PLAY I am very disciplined about my work; I normally allocate myself a target number of pages to translate per day and don't stop until I have achieved that. Equally, I don't allow myself to go above a certain number of pages because I find that my brain gets a bit scrambled if I do. When I'm planning a deadline, I give myself some leeway in case of unforeseeable problems, because I don't think it's acceptable for translation to be done on a 'that'll do' basis. I work for about an hour and a half at a stretch, take a break to avoid brain scramble, read through what I've done, tweak it, and then continue to the next section. It's intensive work, so I don't work for more than two hours at a time. After a while you get into the rhythm of a book, and I find that I always have to make more corrections to the first 30 pages or so. I like to allow a month's resting time between finishing the translation and doing the final read-through and edits, so I can let go of the original and edit the translation as a piece of English prose. For Asterix and the Chariot Race, I had a Word document with all the text, and a separate graphics document. As I was only allowed to work on this one laptop, which didn't have a good touchpad, it was an effort to swap between the two documents, so I worked on the words first and then looked at the images. It occurred to me that I should, perhaps, be looking at the images first, but when I tried that it didn't work as well. Since completing Asterix and the Chariot Race, I have worked on The 12 Labours of Asterix, a spin-off book from one of the Asterix films. The albums come out every two years, so there should be one next year. I very much hope I will get the job, as it was so much fun to translate." Interview by Miranda Moore

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